Tempers flare during heated council meeting

Leigh Town Hall
Leigh Town Hall
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  • Final full council meeting of year held in Leigh
  • Councillors clash over Trade Union Bill and Ashfield Park inquiry
  • Previous meeting in Leigh saw police called due to unruly behaviour

COUNCILLORS clashed over support for trade unions and the costs of a public inquiry at another tempestuous full council meeting last night.

Held at Leigh Town Hall due to the Wigan equivalent being closed for repair work, proceedings threatened to boil over on several occasions.

But unlike the previous meetings held in Leigh 12 months ago, no elected members were voted not to be heard due to rude outbursts.

And council officers did not require assistance from Greater Manchester Police to deal with unruly behaviour.

Instead, the borough’s councillors voted through a motion proposed by leader Lord Smith outlining the local authority’s concerns about the Government’s upcoming Trade Union Bill. Although it was the ongoing controversy over the costs of the Ashfield Park village green (VG) inquiry that initially caused tempers to flare.

Coun Gareth Fairhurst, who applied for VG status for the Standish park, refuted claims from the town hall that he has wasted £36k of taxpayers’ money on the inquiry after a government inspector rejected the bid.

The message from the residents of Standish is that they were hoodwinked into giving money

Coun George Davies

He said: “Has Gareth Fairhurst got the power to order a public inquiry? No. Any citizen has the right to make an application. It’s up to the inspector to decide whether the application goes forward.”

He added that the figures the council had quoted for the costs of the inquiry were false and pointed out that a “London barrister” had been used to present its case.

Coun Fairhurst received a stern rebuke from Wigan Central’s Coun George Davies, who told the chamber: “It was a complete waste of taxpayers’ money. The message from the residents of Standish is that they were hoodwinked into giving money to the (Save Ashfield) campaign that was doomed from the very start.”

Leader Lord Smith later called for an investigation into how the funds donated to Save Ashfield were spent.

Coun Fairhurst, who became more exasperated with Mayor Susan Loudon’s handling of the meeting throughout the evening, has maintained that all funds can be accounted for.

Deputy leader Coun David Molyneux called for Coun Fairhurst to admit he was wrong about the council’s intentions for the park.

Adding: “This council never has or never will have any intention to develop (houses) on Ashfield Park.

“The number of people who feel they have been misrepresented (by Coun Fairhurst) is unbelievable.”

Before the issue came to a close, and the inspector’s decision to reject the VG application was formally accepted, Coun Fairhurst claimed the council would unveil plans to build on the park after next year’s elections.

The debate then turned to the Government’s controversial Trade Union Bill which leader Lord Smith, in his motion to the chamber, claimed would “harm existing good working relations with staff and trade unions” if it receives approval from the House of Commons in its current form.

The Bill will increase the threshold for strike ballots, a proposal that opposition leader Conservative Coun James Grundy said was “perfectly reasonable”.

He added that Labour was attacking the bill because the party is primarily funded by trade unions.

Coun Grundy told the chamber: “There’s only two options on a strike ballot. What this will do is ensure that people know that the workforce is behind that strike and not just a group of hardcore militants. This is an issue that needs to be addressed.”

The motion calling for chief executive Donna Hall to write to Westminster expressing concerns with the Bill was voted through although Coun Grundy and his two Conservative colleagues voted against it.